I’d like to think that every game critic dreams of one day finding a truly hidden gem, something with little hype going unnoticed, so that they can help give it the recognition and exposure it so truly deserves. In a genre like point-and-click graphic adventure games, which is known for emphasizing brilliant writing and creativity, a particularly good one is an even bigger gem. Unfortunately, Demetrios – The BIG Cynical Adventure is not that gem. Not even close. What looks like a rough, somewhat shoddy exterior at first eventually gives way to a rough, somewhat shoddy interior. It wants to dabble in cynical humor, but sadly makes a bit of a mess of it in the end.
Demetrios is the story of Bjorn Thonen, an antiques dealer living in Paris who wakes up one morning after a mysterious phone call to find the tablet from a statue he purchased stolen. After taking the law into his own hands and eventually retrieving the tablet, he soon finds himself whisked away to the foreign land of Nogo, along with his neighbor Sandra and her daughter Caroline, on a journey to potentially save the world. All while Bjorn attempts to apply snark to everything he sees. Among its influences, Demetrios lists the Broken Sword series, Runaway, and Gabriel Knight, but the two adventures games that I kept thinking of while playing it were the Leisure Suit Larry series and Moebius: Empire Rising, of all things. From Leisure Suit Larry, it borrows the cartoonish art style and luckless loser of a main character that we’re supposed to laugh at. Unfortunately, it also borrows some of its worst elements in being about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the gonads with its humor (which I’m surprised wasn’t an actual gag in the game).
Yes, Demetrios goes heavy on the gross-out humor here. And not that I have anything against gross-out humor, because it can work when executed properly, but the jokes here tend be quite cringe-worthy at times, involving the likes of defecation, farts, porn, and jabs at the mentally challenged, among many other things. And don’t think you’ll be escaping it, as even the puzzles themselves involve having to dab an object in vomit or forcing Bjorn to piss himself, right up until the final puzzle, which – without giving things away – basically requires you to give a blow job. Charming, indeed.
Of course, humor is subjective, and if you’re into stuff that plays it a bit more blue, you won’t be judged here. But this does mean that Demetrios’ humor is very hit-or-miss, and more often than not, it ended up on the miss side for me. There were a couple of clever gags, like Bjorn’s commentary on a ship peacefully sailing around and the denial he turns to as it suddenly begins to sink and a bit of fourth wall awareness at the end, but more often than not, quips characters delivered throughout just ended up being quite forgettable.
But where does Moebius: Empire Rising come into this? Well, like Moebius, Demetrios is an adventure game that features an antiques dealer as its lead. And much like fellow lead character Malachi Rector in Moebius, Bjorn ends up being a major prick that I wanted to punch in the face repeatedly over the game. Except where Malachi was a snobby, condescending douche, Bjorn is a full-on lunkhead who acts like an asshole to everyone he meets and is constantly selfish.
Actually, that’s being a but unfair, because every character in Demetrios is an asshole in some way or another. Not a single enjoyable person in the whole cast. “But that’s the whole point!” I hear you say. “It’s cynical humor, of course they’re supposed to be assholes, you just don’t get it!” I get it, but sorry, this game is still doing it wrong. The best examples of cynical humor such as Rick and Morty, The Venture Brothers, or to name something in the same ballpark, the Deponia games, have cast of characters that are dicks, yes. But the difference is that aside from being really damn funny, all of those examples give us insight into why these characters are dicks in the first place, why they feel that way, or give us occasional glimpses into their humanity. That’s what makes characters such as Rick Sanchez, Rusty Venture, and Rufus likeable. In contrast, Demetrios is more cynical in the same manner as latter-day Family Guy, where characters are cruel and annoying in the hopes of scoring a cheap laugh and nothing else.
So Demetrios flops in the “cynical” department, and I’m sad to say that it doesn’t do well in the “big” department either. Despite the game’s claim of providing eight to twelve hours of gameplay, it’s quite easy to beat it in merely half that time. The majority of the game’s puzzles aren’t particularly challenging, or even that inspired (save for one or two near the end). Most of them seem to consist of fetch quests, especially that of the variety that only exist for padding purposes.
For example, at one point you need a tape recorder from Sandra, and while she’s looking for it, she also wouldn’t mind if you picked up a few ingredients for a recipe you’re trying out. One such ingredient is mushrooms, which you get at an area you previously visited, where Bjorn points out that mushrooms have now suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Then after delivering the ingredients, Bjorn quips about how Sandra has now just magically found the tape recorder, and the annoyance of the coincidence. I shouldn’t have to say this multiple times, but guys, pointing our your flaws and cliches does not automatically excuse them. The story doesn’t exactly work in the game’s favor either. Even if you see it as nothing more than an excuse to set up jokes, it’s still a rather vanilla tale, not helped by some of the more ludicrous moments like an out-of-nowhere twist at the end.
There are two unique aspects to Demetrios worth mentioning, though. The first is the fact that you can unlock hints over the course of the game by finding three hidden cookies on each screen, somewhat similar to the hint coins from the Professor Layton games. A novel idea in theory, but again, the fact that the puzzles are extremely easy overall make them mostly useless. Ironically, finding the hidden cookies provided the only real challenge, as searching for them can require an egregious amount of pixel hunting not seen since the early ’90s. I actually felt I needed hints more for finding other hints than for the rest of the game.
The other clever idea Demetrios has is the ability to “collect” various death scenes, it what feels like an ode to early Sierra games. As death here just returns you to where you started, it makes this part no real hassle, but while it has the setup for some decent comedy, it falls flat. Most of these death scenes are blatantly telegraphed to you, and you actually have to go out of your way and violate common sense to get to them. For example, there’s a plant in a police station with a warning to not pee on it. Click on it, and Bjorn will think about peeing on it, followed by a Yes/No choice about whether or not you should pee on it. With all of that set up before you take a piss, any actual impact a snarky death may have has been deflated.
There are also mini-games in Demetrios required to progress that you can unlock later, such as crane machines, shooting galleries, and pinball, and while they’re meant to inflate the replay value, they aren’t that enticing. If there is one thing the game mostly does right, it’s the backgrounds, which are colorful, cute, and well-drawn, save for the awkwardly typed-in text. The character design ranges from okay to ugly, though, and the little animation that appears is pretty awkward.
Music-wise, there are a few decent tunes, though it’s ruined by some awkward issues with it. In several cases, the music in a scene just turns off for seemingly no reason, awkward pauses appear in between songs, and while the game doesn’t have voice acting, there were a couple of moments where the sound effects they made – such as crying – failed to end long after the character stopped the action that cued it. Throw in one instance where the game crashed, and I’d say there’s still a few band-aids to be applied here.
If you’re the type of person who’s more of a fan of Demetrios’ intentionally crass sense of humor, it may be worth a whirl, especially given its modest fee. But for others, Bjorn and the rest will grate on you quite easily, and the game’s numerous other shortcomings in the challenge, story and sound departments will drag things down even further. If it sounds like this is all being to harsh on The BIG Cynical Adventure, it’s only because the game makes it too easy to be cynical right back at it. The one-man development efforts of Cowcat are to admired, but they sadly can’t save the end product from being purely mediocre.